Strategic Giving: Strengthen Your Association’s Core Message

By Heather Carnes • November 5, 2012

According to a recent Association Adviser eNews reader survey, nearly 31 percent of respondents told us their organizations support at least one charitable cause throughout the year and 37 percent supported multiple causes. While that seems like an admirable participation level by associations, it also means nearly one third of you work for organizations that aren’t involved with philanthropic work. Is this a sign of the times?

People give because it makes them feel good. But why do organizations give? Organizations can’t necessarily ‘feel’ good about what they do for society, but members can feel good about belonging to an association that’s not completely self-serving—one that gives back and supports a cause that doesn’t directly support their industry.


  • Organizations have a conscience and a personality. In order to be perceived as responsible, contributing entities to society, they must stand for something beyond their basic missions.
  • Get members involved by considering how charitable giving fits into your organization’s mission and vision and the value it provides to your members.
  • Consider the long-term promotional schedule and resources you’ll need before launching your campaign.
  • Most associations pick deserving causes based on mission or geographic proximity, but the cause doesn’t have to be directly related to the industry your association represents.

Organizations have a conscience

The world today is very different from the world we lived in 20 years ago, and so has the association’s role in society evolved as well. For instance, the rise of social media as a marketing tool has allowed organizations to display human-like qualities publicly, complete with emotions, opinions and even friends and fans. Today organizations have a conscience, and in order for them to be perceived as responsible, contributing entities to society, they have to stand for something beyond their basic mission.

But, how does charitable giving fit into your organization’s mission and vision? And what value does it provide your members? With so many options it’s easy to get overwhelmed, not to mention that most association staff teams hardly have the resources or time to incorporate a full-scale fundraising campaign into their agenda. However, with just a little planning, you can incorporate philanthropy into your organization’s core and give members something to feel really good about.

Pick your cause

The American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) got behind CUT IT OUT, a not-for-profit program dedicated to mobilizing salon professionals to help fight domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is an often-hidden problem that may affect up to one-third of American women at one time in their lives, said AACS Executive Director Jim Cox who added that the beauty profession is historically a “very giving community.”

The Society took its advocacy efforts a step further last November when it organized its own fundraiser – Beauty Changes Lives – to help combat domestic violence. The event, which attracted more than 800 attendees, not to mention Sassoon models and celebrity stylist and TV personality Ted Gibson, was so successful that AACS recently spun off an independent not-for-profit organization and website, Beauty Changes Lives, to help the cause.

The BCL program has raised more than $50,000 in scholarships for beauty school students and has made domestic violence awareness training a mandatory part of the curriculum at more than 1,000 beauty and cosmetology schools nationwide. AACS now works very closely with the Justice Department in every state, and it is one of the most successful outreach programs for raising awareness and prevention of domestic abuse, according to Cox.

Although domestic violence isn’t directly correlated to cosmetology schools, AACS is keenly aware of the “unique trust that stylists have with their clients for a greater good,” related Cox. Because salon professional develop one-on-one relationships with their clients in a relaxed, comfortable setting, Cox said “they’re in unique position to recognize signs of trauma to the hair, skin and other areas that can signal warning signs of domestic abuse.” Thanks to AACS, more than 330,000 discreet anti-abuse information cards have been distributed at salons nationwide.

The Ohio Society of Association Executives (OSAE) proves that non-profit proximity is important, too. Every December, OSAE hosts a holiday luncheon and silent auction to benefit Charity Newsies, a group in Columbus, Ohio, that’s mission is that no child be kept out of school for lack of adequate clothing. It completes that mission by purchasing new apparel and distributing it free of charge to 15,000 school children in Franklin County, Ohio with 100 percent going to clothe the kids. Clothing school children doesn’t have much in common with association executives, but 100 percent of the proceeds help children in Ohio, so proximity is the key ingredient in this partnership.

The point is to find what works for you and your members.

Launch your campaign

The next thing to think about is how you will announce the newly formed partnership. Doing so at an annual meeting with most of your membership in attendance would be a good choice. Consider allowing someone to come speak to your membership about how the particular non-profit has changed their life or the lives of others. You’ll receive a better response by incorporating an emotional, results-oriented message. Following up with a special fundraising activity that ties everything together is a good way to hammer the message home.

Get the message out

What’s one of the easiest ways to get your message out? Your website, of course! Incorporate an “advocacy” section into your website that mentions your partnerships with not-for-profit organizations. Make sure you define exactly what the not-for-profit does to help the industry or community in which it operates. On your website, include how much your association contributes on a yearly basis, as well as photos of your members getting involved and relevant details about the upcoming event. Ask the not-for-profit to post the association’s logo and affiliation on its website, as well. Remember to treat it as a partnership.

Involve members

Hopefully, you already have buy-in up front from your members about which organization(s) to support. It’s equally important to communicate the needs and desires of your membership with your new partner(s). This will ensure you are working together to help your members make a large impact, and that they are emotionally involved. Think about events that your association currently hosts and ways you can incorporate fundraising efforts. Maybe a small percentage of revenue generated from the annual golf outing, or a silent auction around the holidays would be a great way to garner member involvement.

Another way to gain support from your membership is to show them how their efforts make an impact. Set aside time on a yearly basis to share with them how they’ve impacted somebody’s life, and most importantly, thank them for their efforts and time.

An association provides a place where people can come together to accomplish a common purpose. Incorporate purposeful, charitable giving as a part of your core message and organizational culture, and you’re sure to strengthen the foundation upon which your association is built.


Heather Williams is an editor with Naylor, LLC, and the company’s fundraising committee chair for its headquarters office in Gainesville, Fla.

Race for a Cause

Although it wouldn’t be a convention without over-the-top eating, drinking and socializing opportunities, there’s increasingly been a healthier supplement to those activities that helps convention goers assuage their guilt about over-indulgence, while providing valuable networking, calorie burning and head-clearing opportunities all rolled into one.

Thanks to organizations such as Off ‘N Running Tours, the loneliness of the long-distance convention jogger may be a thing of the past and a well-needed respite from the monotony of hotel gym treadmill or stair climber, said Cheryl Anker, Off ‘N Running’s well-toned 50-something founder and president. “We’re not just about promoting fitness,” said Anker. “We’re about empowerment, overcoming fear and breaking down the excuses we make to avoid exercising.”

Each year, Off N’ Running manages approximately 50 convention-related running events worldwide and attracts upward of 4,000 participants, according to Anker, a former teacher, paralegal and lifelong running enthusiast.

Hosting a run at your next convention is also a great way to fundraise. The American Society of Association Executives embraced the idea at this summer’s annual conference with proceeds going to The Midnight Mission, a support network for the homeless that is supported by ASAE.